Ask for a volunteer to stand in the middle of a group of at least eight people.
Volunteer will place their feet together, cross their arms on their chest and keep their body stiff.
Upon issuing a series of agreed ‘Are you ready?’ commands, the group leans the volunteer backwards, until their head and upper torso are supported.
Lifting together, the group then slowly elevates the volunteer’s body off the ground to shoulder height.
Once comfortable, the group then starts rocking the person’s body back and forth (from head to toe) several times.
After about 15 to 20 seconds, the group lowers the person gently to the ground.
Repeat these steps with as many volunteers who wish to participate.
How To Play Narrative
Ask for one person to stand in the middle of a circle of at least eight other people.
With their feet together, arms crossed on their chest, and keeping rather stiff, this person will initiate the agreed safety commands to ensure the rest of the group (the spotters) are ready.
On the final command, the rest of the group will work together to lift this person off the ground.
Holding their feet in place, the group should lean the middle person backwards at first, aiming to immediately support the volunteer’s head and upper torso. Then, bending their knees and not their backs, the spotters will slip in under faller’s legs and upper torso and lift together to haul their trusting colleague off the ground.
For most occasions, lifting to shoulder height (of the shortest person) is sufficient. This height will be accessible to all members of your group, thereby permitting the most number of hands to be in contact.
It’s good practice to assign a dedicated person to look after the head and neck of the ‘elevated’ – not only are they critical anatomical bits, but are likely to flop around uncomfortably during the exercise if support is not offered now.
With the person lifted horizontally, silently motion your group to gently initiate a rocking movement of the body which travels in the direction of the head, and then to the toes and back to the head. Back and forth, back and forth, maintain a soothing swaying sensation.
After about 15 to 20 seconds, instruct your group to sustain the rocking while also bending their knees and bringing their now almost comatose colleague to lie flat on the ground.
Be prepared for all sorts of sharing here, from the chilled-out-I-don’t-know-what-to-say to the totally ecstatic.
Also observe how many people felt that they were being carried out of the area, rather than rocked in place. These folks I have dubbed the ‘travellers’ as distinct from the ‘floaters.’ My extensive clinical research indicates that ‘travellers’ make up 40 percent of the population.
Before launching yourself into this exercise, consider introducing Wind in the Willows – it’s a perfect lead-up activity. Certainly not necessary, just nice.
Invite the person being levitated to close their eyes. It’s a rather special experience for one to wonder where in the lifting and lowering process they are.
If possible, find a way to guide your group through the exercise without talking- silence often enhances the experience for some people. Use one or more silent gestures to indicate when to lift, when to start rocking, and when to return the person to the ground.
This is purely a style preference, but I also like to ask my group to remain crouched on the ground, until the person has regained their composure and is ready to be assisted back onto their feet. It’s my belief that looking up at a large number of people peering down at oneself can be quite freaky for some folks.
Even though it may get tedious, always, always, always insist that the group commits to a series of ‘Are you ready?’ commands BEFORE the person is lifted off the ground. This routine not only sharpens people’s attention, but it will pay dividends later in your program, especially if you plan on embarking on higher-level adventures.
In case you missed it – remind your group to lift the volunteer only as far as the shoulder height of the smallest person, lest you disengage a few people.
Oh, and always ask your levitating volunteer to face upwards. A request to face down makes it very difficult for your group to know where to put their hands (need I say more?)
You could integrate Levitation as part of a well-designed SEL program to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The unique safety attributes of this group initiative, not to mention the opportunities for group members to be vulnerable, demand if not speak to the benefit of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Indeed, I would argue that this type of heightened adventure-based activity requires that you facilitate a full value conversation with your group before you launch into it, lest someone gets hurt (emotionally or physically.)
A group that has developed strong connections and has learned what it takes to be trustworthy and responsible is more likely to enjoy meaningful rewards from levitating their colleagues than a group of folks who do not know each other as well.
The number of people who choose (and choose not) to be levitated by their group should never be used as a measure of success in activities of this nature. Rather, invite your group to explore the environment within which each person was invited to participate. For example, you could explore some of these questions:
How might the refusal to be levitated reflect on the group’s level of safety consciousness?
Do you think some people were influenced by others to accept or refuse to participate? What is the impact of such decisions in the longer term?
In what ways did we (or could we) support one another physically and emotionally before, during and after the activity?
A very clear sign of the health of a group’s development is when an individual feels comfortable to announce that they choose not to be levitated and their group wholeheartedly supports their decision. To this end, consider the significant health & wellness benefits that flow to the well-being of those who are supported in such decisions.
Travellers: Once elevated, instruct the group to silently (and secretly) carry the levitating person to a non-disclosed location, all the while rocking them on their journey. Choose to do this randomly to keep the levitating person guessing.
Levitation Preamble: Transition from the conclusion of Wind in the Willows to a levitation. Use a silent gesture to halt the group’s passing motions, lean the ‘faller’ backwards so that their head and neck can be supported, and then prepare for a lift.
Powerful trust-building exercise for small groups.
Physically demanding team challenge with lifting at height.
Useful Framing Ideas
There are very few opportunities in our life when we get to lay back, relax and let someone else look after our well-being. Some people find this process of ‘letting go’ quite difficult, for others, it comes quite easy. There are many dimensions to our well-being – physical, emotional, mental, etc. This next exercise is likely to challenge you on all three dimensions…
Have you ever seen magicians do the levitating-person trick. Logically, we all understand that it’s just an illusion, but when they pass a hula-hoop over the levitating person’s body, it’s very easy to believe that it’s real. Well, there’s no illusion about this next exercise, but you will all get the chance to know what it’s like to be levitated off the ground…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this unique, group spotting and trust-building exercise:
How did it feel to be the person levitated off the ground?
What was your most significant part of the levitation experience?
Did you feel that you were a floater or a traveller? Why?
What were you aware of during the levitation?
As a spotter, what was necessary to make this exercise work for everyone?
How did it feel to support another person who was completely dependent on you?
What helped you to feel comfortable (or uncomfortable) during the exercise?
Can any parts of our discussion apply to the success and performance of your group?
The inspiration for Levitation, and many more significant, trust-building exercises, was sourced from the following publication: